Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(26) by Connie Suttle
Ashe locked the truck and closed the garage door while Aedan carried his mother into the house. Ashe set the alarm, too—listening as his mother was carried down the stairs. His parents' bedroom door opened and closed. Ashe sighed and slumped to the kitchen floor, holding his head in his hands. It had been so close. So close. If he'd waited only a few seconds more…
* * *
"Marco, I hope you realize how dangerous it is to be going out alone," Marcus held his temper back. "Your mother and I know how much you cared for that girl, but it's foolish to place yourself in this position. What if the human authorities find out there's someone that knew Megan who they haven't questioned?" Marcus' dark eyes bored into Marco's. "Too many people have seen you spending time with her at the Burger Hut. Don't deny it, son," Marcus flung out a hand. "You and James were in Cordell at least twice a week, talking to her. Mr. Winkler has been trying to find out whether anyone has reported that to the police. The Packmaster in Oklahoma City is in law enforcement. He's trying to get the information. If the OSBI comes looking for you and James, we'll be able to bring you forward, but James is dead. How will we explain his disappearance?"
"Dad, this is so messed up," Marco rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"Son, I know you lost two that you cared for. But things are different for members of the Pack. During your lifetime, you'll see Packmates fall. It's part of what we are."
"But James was murdered. So was Megan."
"And we're doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this. You have to let us do our jobs, Marco. Stop going off by yourself, son. The last thing I need right now is for someone to tell me that it's not somebody else's son they found dead in a field."
"Dad," Marco wiped wetness from his cheeks.
"Son, your mother and I love you. I ask that you don't forget that." Marcus walked out of Marco's bedroom and closed the door softly behind him.
* * *
"I don't want your mother going to work tomorrow," Aedan was back and sliding down the kitchen wall to sit beside his son.
"But this is the busiest time," Ashe played with a shoestring on his athletic shoes. The shoes, only a few months old, were already tight on his feet. He'd been thinking of asking his mother for a new pair. That would wait.
"I know. But there's nobody else here who knows the business."
"Ashe, you're twelve. While you're more adult than a lot of adults I know, you need someone older there with you."
"Wynn's mom or dad could do it."
"Son, they have their own farm to tend."
"Dad, you, Old Harold and Nathan put up their barn in four days last year. I don't think a couple of days at the store will hurt too much, do you? Mom will really be upset if the store doesn't open."
"She will," Aedan sighed. Pulling his cell phone from a pocket, he dialed a number. Ashe heard Sharon O’Neill’s voice quite clearly on the other end when she answered.
"Sharon, this is Aedan Evans," Ashe's father said. "We had a bit of trouble tonight. Adele was attacked outside the CPA's office. We think someone drugged her. She barely made it home before passing out and now she's in no condition to work for a day or two. I was wondering if you or Jonas might be able to help Ashe watch the store."
"Adele was attacked?" Sharon was aghast at the news.
"Yes. She's sleeping the drugs off now. It was dark or nearly so when she was attacked and almost everyone in Cordell was at a memorial service for the girl who was killed."
"Aedan, Jonas says one of us will come. We'll pick Ashe up in the morning around seven-thirty. Does he have keys to the store?"
"He'll have them," Aedan said. "I appreciate this more than I can say."
"Aedan, if you and Nathan hadn't been there for us last year, we'd still be climbing out of that hole. We'll come."
"Thank you, Sharon," Aedan said and terminated the call. "I'll get Marcus to contact Ben Billings and let him know you'll be out of school for a day or two," Aedan ran gentle fingers through Ashe's hair. "We'll get through this, son."
"I don't want any more close calls like this," Ashe muttered, bumping his forehead against his knees.
* * *
"You were supposed to wait and make sure the job was finished. Not leave at the first opportunity to let things take care of themselves," Wolf growled at his accomplices. The plan was to eliminate the mother, leaving the boy vulnerable during daylight hours.
"It should have been done. I have no idea how she managed to drive home. She was unconscious. I swear it."
"If you expect to get what you want, you're going to have to do better than this!" Wolf's words were hissed in frustration.
"As you did better the first time?" The voice was cool and angry. "You have already gotten most of what you wanted."
"I was operating on the information I was given before. Every bit of that information fit. How should I have known there was more than one? It's your fault for not being more specific."
"Regardless, you must uphold your part of the bargain this time. Should you fail, we will not be merciful."
"If you expect to get what you want from this, you'll have to keep your threats to yourself." Wolf wasn't going to settle for that sort of treatment.
"Fine. Do not fail us."
"Do your job next time and we won't have another conversation like this."
Ashe was very surprised to find that Mr. Winkler had come with Sharon O'Neill early the following morning. "Just to make sure of things," Winkler tousled Ashe's hair as Ashe set the alarm and walked out the kitchen door. The garage door went down next; Ashe watched it close completely before walking with Winkler toward the van that Mr. Winkler drove. Wynn's mother Sharon was waiting inside. Ashe crawled into the back seat, Mr. Winkler put the van in gear and they drove toward Cordell.
"I'm bringing two of mine from Dallas who know a lot about gardening," Winkler informed Ashe later, when Ashe handed a cup of coffee to him. "They'll run the store while your mother recovers. And if she insists on continuing to work here before we get this mystery solved, then at least one will stay to help. She doesn't need to be here alone; that much is obvious."
"Yeah." Ashe knocked the toe of his athletic shoe against a leg of his mother's desk inside her office. Mr. Winkler had already pulled cash from the register and allowed Ashe to slip it inside the safe. With Sharon O'Neill working with them, they'd done pretty well. There were only a few questions Ashe didn't feel comfortable answering on some of the tillers and lawn mowers, but Mr. Winkler had located printed information in the back and went through it with the customers. Ashe learned that Mr. Winkler had an Engineering degree from the University of Texas and was quite adept at starting garden equipment and talking about cost effectiveness and fuel efficiency.
"You know how to do this?" Sharon watched over Ashe's shoulder as he filled out the deposit slip and sorted out the charge slips for the day. Sales had been brisk, although several customers had asked about Adele. Ashe said she was sick and left it at that. A few women made a point to talk with Mr. Winkler, who took it good-naturedly, smiling at them.
"This isn't hard," Ashe grinned. "If we get a lot of checks, I have to go through those at least twice to make sure they were all added correctly, but you can clip them together and put the total amount on one line," he pointed to the figure in question. "It makes things a lot easier. You can't possible list each check on a line; I'd have to have twenty-five deposit slips, just for today."
"Why did you sort the charge slips?" Sharon asked.
"In case a charge is disputed. We can find the one in question pretty quick if you sort them into the types of card used." Ashe felt like an adult, answering questions about the business end of Cordell Feed and Seed.
"Come along, growing one," Winkler grinned. "Let's pick up dinner and take you home. We'll see how your mother is doing." Ashe locked the door behind him after setting the alarm and they drove to Betsy's Diner, picking up enough food for Ashe, his mother and Sharon O'Neill's family. Winkler phoned Denise DeLuca while Ashe was ordering, asking if she wanted something brought home for her family. Ashe heard her say that she'd already started something. Winkler hung up shortly after that.
* * *
"Ashe, how did it go?" Adele asked weakly as he, Sharon O'Neill and Mr. Winkler walked through the kitchen door. Ashe's mother sat at the kitchen table, a tumbler of water at her elbow.
"Sales were good, Mom," Ashe went to hug Adele. "Here's the deposit bag if you want to look. And we have dinner from Betsy's. I ordered chicken and noodles for you."
"That sounds good. Mr. Winkler, we are so grateful for your help. Denise told me that an extra two showed up at her home an hour ago. They're waiting for you now."
"They'll stay in town tonight and I'll take Ashe in tomorrow so he can show them where everything is. They're bonded and trustworthy, Mrs. Evans. They'll run the business for you while you're down." Winkler offered Adele a quick grin.
"I owe you so much," Adele said.
"It's nothing," Winkler waved it off. "They already work for me, so it isn't any trouble."
Adele thanked Sharon, too, who seemed grateful she didn't have to go to Cordell the following day. Ashe saw them out the garage door before closing it and setting the alarm. "Mom, how do you feel?" he asked after walking back into the kitchen.
"Really tired," she said, pulling the Styrofoam container of chicken and noodles toward her. Ashe went to find cutlery and a napkin for both of them before sitting down to meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
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